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Unitarian Church Seeks A Lift

When Westport’s Unitarian Church was built 50 years ago, the congregation was largely young.

The church itself still looks fresh and modern. But some of those congregants are still around. And one thing they didn’t think about back in 1965 — accessibility of the sanctuary — now haunts them.

“Some members just can’t come anymore,” says Bobbie Herman. As a trustee of the church, she stands at the door and watches people struggle to get up the hill from the parking lot. A number of steep wide steps separate the lot from the front door.

The steps leading up to the Unitarian Church's front door.

The steps leading up to the Unitarian Church’s front door.

There are side entrances on the lower level. But once inside, it’s a long flight of stairs to the sanctuary.

Members studied options like golf carts. But those are volunteer- and weather-dependent.

The best solution seemed to be a hydraulic lift. It’s 25 square feet, and can hold 3 people.

Planning and Zoning director Larry Bradley gave an initial okay. But he asked for a detailed survey, and discovered that with the placement of the lift and moving handicap spaces, the church would be over its legal coverage.

“Handicap ramps are exempt from coverage,” he explains. “Lifts and parking spaces are not.”

This is the type of lift the church would like to install.

This is the type of lift the church would like to install.

The changes needed to be in compliance — including an additional site plan, wetlands survey and work to the property — would substantially increase the cost of the lift, Herman and church building and grounds committee head Chuck Colletti say.

They’ve raised $30,000 from members so far. They don’t think they could swing the additional “huge” costs.

Colletti and Herman say that 2 acts — Americans with Disabilities, and Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons — compel them to make their church accessible to all.

The Unitarian Church is asking for a Planning & Zoning Commission text amendment, to legalize their lift and amend the definition of “total coverage” to exempt handicapped parking. They’re on the agenda this Thursday (July 16).

“All we want is a 25-square foot platform, to built a lift,” Colletti says.

“This is not about whether I like the project or not,” Bradley says. “My job is to enforce the zoning regulations, as they’re written.”

 

Ryan Milligan’s Puzzling Life

The New York Times is the gold standard of crossword puzzles. If you can solve one, you feel pretty good.

If you can actually create and sell one to Times puzzle editor Will Shortz, you feel even better.

Ryan Milligan did just that. His crossword puzzle was published today. Not too shabby for a 25-year-old.

Ryan Milligan

Ryan Milligan

Then again, while at Staples High School he was already making crosswords. He got the bug helping his dad, Marty, solve the Times puzzle before school each morning (Ryan’s specialty was French clues). Soon, he was solving them on his own — on the bus, or during free periods.

Starting as a junior, the Class of 2008 member created one crossword a week. He’d print 150 copies, and leave them in the lobby. By lunchtime, they’d be gone.

His first puzzles, he admits, were “truly terrible.” Over the years, he honed his craft. He learned to fit the Times standard: 180-degree symmetry, fewer than 40 black squares, fewer than 78 words, no 2-letter entries, etc.

Ryan submitted his 1st puzzle to Shortz as a senior. It was rejected. So were the 10 or so that followed.

But the puzzle editor has been “an incredible mentor” over the past 8 years, Ryan says.

Shortz always gave full explanations for the rejection. Usually the theme was tired, or had been used before.

This time, Ryan hit paydirt. (Actually it was a year ago. Shortz has a long waiting list for publication.)

SPOILER ALERT: Today’s theme is “Hidden in plain sight.” The word “hidden” is hidden in the 1st long across row. The words “in plain” are hidden in the 2nd long row; the word “sight” is hidden in the 3rd one. The 4th long across row reveals the overall theme.

NY Times crosswordRyan thinks Shortz liked it because it was “really different. Constructors often take standard phrases and change a letter or 2 around to make them wacky. But this is something that has really not been tried before.”

Shortz is a hands-on editor. He changed some of the long across answers, then pulled in Frank Longo to rework the puzzle a bit more.

Ryan is not resting on his laurels. He creates a crossword every couple of weeks, submitting those he feels are print-worthy.

The Dartmouth graduate works in marketing for Wayfair.com, an online furniture retailer. He lives in Boston.

Today he’ll walk around the city. Perhaps he’ll see someone trying to solve the puzzle he made. Few people read the constructors’ names; even those who do won’t know they’re working on “his” puzzle.

Ryan Milligan will be hidden in plain sight.

(To read what the New York Times crossword community is saying about Ryan Milligan’s puzzle, click here.)

Today's puzzle, by Ryan Milligan. (Copyright/New York Times)

Today’s puzzle, by Ryan Milligan. (Copyright/New York Times)

Remembering Jay Emmett

Jay Emmett — one of the entertainment world’s leading executives in the 1960s and ’70s, and a powerful influence in everything from Batman to the New York Cosmos — died last Monday night, at 86. The cause was heart failure, at his home in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Emmett was a longtime resident of Westport, while he built his career in movies and sports marketing.

He began his career working for his uncle in a family-run comic book publishing company that owned the rights to a number of superheroes, including Batman and Superman.

Jay Emmett

Jay Emmett

Emmett founded the Licensing Corporation of America, which expanded from licensing comic book and cartoon characters such as Bugs Bunny and Tweety Bird into sports marketing, leading to partnerships with Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association.

In 1964 Emmett joined Warner Communications — now Time Warner — and was named president, under chairman Steve Ross.

Emmett oversaw great growth in the company’s music and movie divisions during the 1960’s and 1970’s. When the company established the original New York Cosmos, he was instrumental in signing Brazilian star Pelé. The franchise went on to draw more than 70,000 fans each game.

Emmett’s close friendship with Washington attorney Edward Bennett Williams led to his meeting Larry Lucchino, a Williams protégé. Emmett helped Lucchino’s teams — the Baltimore Orioles, San Diego Padres and Boston Red Sox — set home attendance records.

Emmett’s love of sports led him to partner with Sargent and Eunice Kennedy Shriver in the early 1970’s. They worked to develop the Special Olympics into one of the most important charitable institutions in the world. Emmett served in a number of capacities, including as a member of its international board of directors

Family and friends in Westport remember Emmett for his charismatic personality, infectious enthusiasm for life, and his outspoken nature. In recent years, Emmett derived great pleasure from the success of his children and grandchildren.

Emmett is survived by his sons Steven and Andrew, and daughters-in-law Deborah, Marlene, and Geri. He leaves behind 6 grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife Martha and son Paul.

A public celebration of Emmett’s life will be held at Fenway Park this summer. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in his name to the Special Olympics.

To express condolences and/or make donations, click here.

special olympics

Miggs Burroughs Tunnels His Way Through Westport

For years, the pedestrian tunnel linking Main Street with Parker Harding Plaza was one of the grungiest places in Westport. Dark and grim, it seemed like one of the few places in town where you could actually get mugged.

Last year, artist/photographer/creative genius Miggs Burroughs changed all that. His “Tunnel Vision” project — 16 lenticular images showing Westporters connecting with each other, each one changing depending on your viewing angle — turned the Clockwork Orange-ish passageway into a tourist attraction.

Now Miggs is doing the same for Westport’s other skeevy tunnel: the train station, beneath the railroad tracks.

In cooperation with the Westport Police Department Railroad Parking Division, Westport Arts Center and Helen Klisser During, Miggs once again plans 16 lenticular photos.

One view -- or rather, two -- of downtown...

One view — or rather, two — of downtown…

The LED-lit lightboxes will turn the dreary tunnel into a stunning “Welcome to Westport” gallery. It may even stop folks rushing to or from trains — well, dead in their tracks.

Each lenticular will combine an image from a 100-year-old postcard of Westport’s past, with a current shot of the same scene. Downtown, Compo Beach, Longshore, the station itself — all will be displayed in fascinating then-and-now fashion.

The police — who are in charge of railroad station parking — want to bring art to the area. After all, Westport enjoys a reputation as an artists colony — and the Westport Arts Center is just down Riverside Avenue.

For decades too, commuters and civic boosters have wanted to do something to spiff up the horrific first impression of Westport that greets train travelers.

The iconic images come from collections of Police Chief Dale Call, former 1st selectman Gordon Joseloff and amateur historian Bill Scheffler.

...and two more.

…and two more.

You can see one of the lightboxes already. Not yet in the tunnel, it’s mounted outside the westbound waiting room on Railroad Place.

But each lightbox costs $3,000. Joseloff, Scheffler and his wife Ann Sheffer, and Robin Tauck have already funded 1 each. Burroughs and his co-producers need 13 more sponsors. Individuals, families, businesses and corporations are all invited. Contact Marni Katz at the Westport Arts Center (203-226-1806) for more information.

—————————————-

But the east tunnel is not the only one getting an arts infusion.

A project for the newer, less grungy west walkway is also in the works. Set for installation after a similar show at the Westport Historical Society this fall, and sponsored by Andrew Bentley, it will feature New Yorker covers of Westport scenes, paired with photos by Michael Goss of the same scenes today. They will not be lenticulars — but they will be eye-opening.

Here’s one set. The more things change…

Train station New Yorker covers

 

 

 

Not Just Another Reunion Story

Two years ago, I posted an amazing story.

Back in 1966, Chris Murray and Diane McCoy were Staples High School sweethearts. They went their separate, twisting-and-turning ways.

43 years later — both divorced — they reconnected. Now they’re married.

Chris Murray and Diane McCoy today.

Chris Murray and Diane McCoy today.

It was a long, involved, multi-coincidental and very heartwarming piece. (You can should read it here.)

Now there’s another, equally inspiring, PS.

I recently got an email from a woman in Milan, Italy named Alessia Culcasi. Twenty years earlier, as a teenager in Athens, she’d had an English tutor named Chris Murray. She’d just googled him — presumably adding “Westport” — and my “06880” story popped up as the 1st link. She wondered if it was the same one. I said he was.

She hunted Chris down — I guess her English was pretty good — and last month, she visited Chris. She brought along her husband Lele — and why not? They were in the States on their honeymoon.

Alessia and Lele arrive at the train station.

Alessia and Lele arrive at the train station.

“It was a joyful reunion,” Chris says. Alessia loved Diane. They spent a wonderful 2 days showing off Westport.

The tagline of “06880” is “where Westport meets the world.” Apparently, it’s also where the world meets Westport.

Chris and Diane (left) show Alessia and Lele one of Westport's favorite spots.

Chris and Diane (left) show Alessia and Lele one of Westport’s favorite spots.

A Trip Back To The Jennings Trail

Last year, “06880” sounded the alarm that the Jennings Trail Tour had been canceled.

A staple of local 3rd grade life for years — once an actual bus tour of historic Westport highlights — a while ago it morphed into a field trip to Wheeler House, the Westport Historical Society‘s very historic home.

Now — ta da! — the field trip is back.

Director of elementary education Julie Droller revived it — and enlisted Staples High School senior interns as docents. A team, including WHS education director Elizabeth DeVoll and town arts curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz worked to make the tour fit current curriculum requirements.

In a 2-week span, over 500 kids marveled at artifacts and photos that told of Westport’s long-ago rich farmland, fish-filled river and bustling shipping industry. Robert Lambdin’s “Saugatuck in the 19th Century” mural also mesmerized them.

A detail from Robert Lambdin's magnificent mural.

A detail from Robert Lambdin’s magnificent mural.

The docents challenged them with questions like, “What was it like to be a kid in Westport 150 years ago?”

The 3rd grade social studies curriculum includes a study of Connecticut and Westport history. On the Jennings Trail tour, the youngsters created a local timeline, from long ago to today. Each one created an Archival Folder, to bring home.

In 1997, Paul Newman wrote in a Historical Society booklet, “Westport is special to us because it’s home.

That was a decade before the current 3rd graders were born. If they know Paul Newman at all, it’s as that lemonade guy.

But thanks to the Jennings Trail Tour, a new generation of young Westporters is learning a great deal about the town that they too call home.

Interns (from left) Abby King, Ale Benjamin, David Raice and Mehar Kiami. All are Staples High School seniors except (Fairfield Ludlowe High).

Interns (from left) Abby King, Ale Benjamin, David Raice and Mehar Kiami. All are Staples High School seniors except Abby (Fairfield Ludlowe High).

Be Careful Out There!

Dick Fincher is a longtime Westporter. He cares deeply about this town, and everyone in it. He writes:

The other day, driving west on the Post Road I had the green light to turn left onto Sherwood Island Connector.  As I began turning I saw an adult (in age) male bicyclist, facing a red light, come straight on through against the turning traffic. I had to stop to avoid colliding with him.

Fifteen minutes later I was driving north on Compo Road South, toward Longshore. Two adult female cyclists blew through two consecutive stop signs with nary a pause.

These people are either stupid, feel fully entitled or have a death wish.  Unfortunately, their disregard for traffic regulations is not uncommon. In fact, it is typical of what I frequently see and must deal with while driving.

The weather is great. Bikers are out in force — sharing the road with drivers, joggers, walkers, stroller-pushers, rollerbladers and tons of other folks.

We all must look out for ourselves — and each other. Much as we’d wish otherwise, we’re not the only ones on the road.

Westport roads sometimes seem like this.

Westport roads sometimes seem like this.

Late Knights On The Soccer Field

As Westport debates Big Issues — senior housing, state mandates for affordable housing, the tiny minority population here — one word pops up often: “diversity.”

No one claims this is an economically or racially diverse town. But it is diverse in some ways. Westport is filled with people from around the globe. A couple of years ago, for example, of the 66 boys in the Staples High School soccer program, 33 — exactly half — had at least 1 parent born overseas. That list was extensive: Vietnam, Egypt, Norway, Mexico, you name it.

And speaking of soccer, alert “06880” reader Fred Cantor sends along these thoughts:

On the 50th anniversary of jUNe Day next month, Westport will continue its wonderful tradition of hosting staff from the United Nations, and their families.

But a mini-UN can also be found 52 weeks a year at Long Lots and Wakeman, in a pickup game among soccer old-timers. I had the great pleasure of playing with the group —  called the Westport Late Knights  — on weekends (before health issues forced me to the sidelines in 2008).

At one point, I counted almost 20 different nationalities in the game. Over half the players live in Westport. Others are friends who live nearby, and/or used to live here. I used to play soccer in Central Park, and the international mix was no greater than in the Westport games.

One benefit of the Westport pickup games is great camaraderie, accompanied by cultural exchanges and lessons: in international dishes, foreign beers, and learning how to express one’s displeasure to the referee in a variety of languages.

The Westport Late Knights on a trip to England, in 1999. Fred Cantor is in the front row, 2nd from left, between the two players whose hands are on their knees.

The Westport Late Knights on a trip to England, in 1999. Fred Cantor is in the front row, 2nd from left, between the two players whose hands are on their knees.

Politics is sometimes discussed. It was interesting for me to hear first-hand the views of those who have come here from overseas, and to hear what their friends and families back in their native countries were thinking.

Another benefit is that this month the Westport Late Knights took their 10th international trip, to Slovakia. They played matches (known as “friendlies”) against other old-timers. Past trips have been to England (twice), Italy (twice), Ireland, Spain, Bulgaria, Costa Rica and Antigua.

The trips were almost all organized by Late Knight players with ties to those countries. The trips enabled us to meet and socialize with local residents in a way we wouldn’t normally be able to, as tourists.

The Late Knights on their trip this month to Slovakia.

The Late Knights on their trip this month to Slovakia.

Naturally, it hasn’t always been pure fun and games. The Late Knights organized one fundraising tournament in memory of a player’s relative who died in the South Tower on 9/11. They organized another tournament as a fundraiser in memory of a team member’s daughter who died of leukemia. And they came together to raise money for a memorial bench and fund in remembrance of teammate Kuti Zeevi, who was murdered in his Westport jewelry store during a robbery.

The Late Knight members are indeed a mini-UN — with soccer cleats.

Spencer Brockman’s Special Racing Formula

Plenty of Staples students follow their parents into the same profession. I-banking, the corporate world, arts and entertainment — it’s natural to keep doing what you’ve been brought up around.

Spencer Brockman is a race car driver. Quite a switch for a Westport kid, huh?

Spencer Brockman in action.

Spencer Brockman in action.

Not really. Spencer’s dad — Michael — raced nearly every form of car and truck from Watkins Glen to Baja. He was a teammate (and friend) of fellow Westporter Paul Newman. Michael later served as chief test driver for Motor Trend magazine. Today he owns a Volvo dealership in Milford.

But that “family business” angle isn’t the most impressive thing about this story.

It’s that Spencer is still only a freshman at Staples High School.

Spencer Brockman -- or Doogie Howser?

Spencer Brockman — or Doogie Howser?

At age 9 — just a few years ago — Spencer raced go-karts. He won the first race he was in, and was named Rookie of the Year. Now he’s moved up to full-size Formula cars.

Spencer looks like — well, a high school freshman. The kind you’d want your kid to hang out with (or date).

But his polite, cherubic demeanor grows animated as he talks about racing. “I love the adrenaline rush,” he says.

Though only 15, he already has his Sports Car Club of America license. He got it after completing a training school in California last year. He learned how to control a full-size race car.

In his case, that’s a Formula 2000, 2-liter, 4-cylinder, 210-horse vehicle. It goes 150 miles an hour.

He’s raced from New York and Atlanta to the West Coast. He’s in the middle class in his series. There are minimum ages, but no maximums. Most of his fellow racers are in their 20s. One — in his 50s — was racing loooong before Spencer was born.

None are younger than Spencer.

Spencer and Michael Brockman, in a quiet moment. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Spencer and Michael Brockman, in a quiet moment. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

He finished 4th in his first pro race, at Palm Beach this past February. He admits he was nervous — but he was hooked.

He won his very next time — in the rain.

“I just try to learn every track,” Spencer says. As if that explains how a 15-year-old kid from Westport can be one of the top drivers in his series, a mere 3 months after he began.

His father helps, of course, with tips. His mother “loves what I do,” Spencer says. But she does not watch him compete. (He calls her after every race.)

His friends don’t realize how difficult auto racing is. “I’m not just sitting in a car,” Spencer notes. “It’s very physical. There’s no power steering. When you’re trying to force the car into a turn at high speed, you need a lot of physical strength. And cardio.” He goes to the gym every day, paying particular attention to his neck.

Balancing schoolwork is not easy. There are weekday races, as well as weekends. “I know I have to keep my grades up. Otherwise I won’t be able to race. That would be really bad,” Spencer says.

Spencer Brockman, doing what he loves.

Spencer Brockman, doing what he loves.

He’s learned plenty of non-school lessons on the track. “Focus is huge,” he says. So is sportsmanship. “Racers are really respectful. We’re all friends. But that fades once we start.”

His first bad wreck came a month ago, in Atlanta. He went into a turn too fast. The car slid badly, on wet grass. Spencer hit the tire barrier.

No biggie. His crew fixed the car, and he’s back for more.

Spencer Brockman in a racing Camaro's driver's seat. The car -- originally co-owned by his father and Paul Newman -- is now co-owned by Michael and Spencer. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Spencer Brockman in a racing Camaro’s driver’s seat. The car — originally co-owned by his father and Paul Newman — is now co-owned by Michael and Spencer. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

His goal is Formula 1 in Europe — the “creme de la creme,” he says. To do that, he’ll have to keep improving.

Spencer also needs sponsors. He and his dad are searching for them right now. Maybe they can hit up some i-bankers — you know, that other type of father-son duos in Westport.

(To learn more, search for “Spencer Brockman Racing” on Facebook. For sponsorship information, email spencerbrockman@gmail.com)

We Love A Parade!

Perfect weather. Perfect people. A perfect way and day to honor all who serve. (Click or hover over photos to enlarge.)

Cub Scouts amuse themselves while waiting for the parade to begin. (Photo/Elizabeth Williams)

Cub Scouts amuse themselves while waiting for the parade to begin. (Photo/Elizabeth Williams)

The Bedford Middle School band has plenty of pep as the parade rounds the first corner. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

The Bedford Middle School band has plenty of pep as the parade rounds the first corner. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

Remembering MIAs, in front of National Hall. (Photo/Kim Lake)

Remembering MIAs and POWs, in front of National Hall. (Photo/Kim Lake)

It's not a parade without a fife and drum corps. (Photo/Kim Lake)

It’s not a parade without a fife and drum corps… (Photo/Kim Lake)

...meanwhile, Westport may be the only town with dozens of Suzuki violins in its Memorial Day parade. (Photo/Dayle Brownstein)

…meanwhile, Westport may be the only town with dozens of Suzuki violins in its Memorial Day parade. (Photo/Dayle Brownstein)

There's more than one way to enjoy Westport's Memorial Day parade. (Photo/Ed Hulina)

There’s more than one way to enjoy Westport’s Memorial Day parade. (Photo/Ed Hulina)

CLASP salutes homeless veterans. (Photo/Dayle Brownstein)

CLASP salutes America’s veterans. (Photo/Dayle Brownstein)

Go Mariners! (Photo/Dayle Brownstein)

Go Mariners! (Photo/Dayle Brownstein)

You can't watch the parade without caffeine. (Photo/Ed Hulina)

You can’t watch the parade without caffeine. (Photo/Ed Hulina)

Generations of Americans have fought and died so that we all have free speech.

Generations of Americans have fought and died so that we all have free speech. (Photo/Bruce Haymes)

The Coleytown Middle School band. (Photo/Bruce Haymes)

The Coleytown Middle School band… (Photo/Bruce Haymes)

...and the Falcons. (Photo/Bruce Haymes)

…and the Falcons. (Photo/Bruce Haymes)

It's a yearly tradition: The Y's Men win the "Best Float" competition. They did it again this time, for their depiction of the Japanese surrender to Gen. MacArthur.

It’s a yearly tradition: The Y’s Men win the “Best Float” competition. They did it again this time, portraying Japan’s surrender to Gen. MacArthur. (Photo/Jeff Schon)

Grand marshal and World War II vet Bruce Allen. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Grand marshal and World War II vet Bruce Allen. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Sam and Sharon Carpenters' Myrtle Avenue home: the quintessential Memorial Day Myrtle Avenue view.

Sam and Sharon Carpenters’ Myrtle Avenue home: the quintessential Memorial Day view. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Westport's finest. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Westport’s finest. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Westport's other finest: our politicians. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Westport’s other finest: our politicians. (Photo/Dan Woog)

TEAM Westport marched in the parade -- and had fans along the way. (Photo/Dan Woog)

TEAM Westport marched in the parade — and had fans along the way. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Today was a day for family and friends. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Today was a day for family and friends… (Photo/Dan Woog)

...and for honoring all who served. (Photo/John Hartwell)

…and for honoring all who served. (Photo/John Hartwell)

Proud veterans Leonard Everett Fisher, Bob Satter and Tony Esposito. (Photo/Linda Smith)

Proud veterans Leonard Everett Fisher, Bob Satter and Tony Esposito. (Photo/Linda Smith)

Bill Vornkahl -- organizer of 45 Memorial Day parades -- and 3 Girl Scout Daisies recite the Pledge of Allegiance. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Bill Vornkahl — organizer of 45 Memorial Day parades — and 3 Girl Scout Daisies recite the Pledge of Allegiance. (Photo/Dan Woog)

The honor guard salutes America's fallen servicemembers. (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

The honor guard salutes America’s fallen servicemembers. (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

"Taps" -- the echo. (Photo/Dan Woog)

“Taps” — the echo. (Photo/Dan Woog)